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N. Korea conducts another ‘important test’ Friday

Posted December. 16, 2019 07:45,   

Updated December. 16, 2019 07:45


North Korea conducted another “crucial” engine test apparently for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) at its Tongchang-ri site on the west coast Friday. The test came two days after the United States warned the regime against carrying out provocations at the United Nations Security Council meeting, and a day after it test-launched a mid-range ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The North’s Academy of National Defence Science said in a statement Saturday that an important test was conducted at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground from 10:41 p.m. to 10:48 p.m. on Friday. Pak Jong Chon, chief of the North Korean military’s General Staff, also said, seven hours after the test, that the data and technology gained in the recent test will be “fully applied to the development of another strategic weapon for definitely and reliably restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the United States.”

North Korea did not elaborate on its engine test conducted at the Tongchang-ri site on Dec. 7. This led to speculation that the engine was not for ICBMs but for projectiles carrying satellites. Yet, the regime has disclosed that the engine is for its strategic weapons, ICBMs, in six days.

The North has also confirmed that the latest test lasted seven minutes, while it did not reveal the time it took to conduct the test on Dec. 7. Observers estimate that it must have taken seven minutes, that is 420 seconds, to combust the two-tier rocket engine for new ICBMs. The Hwasong-15, which the North launched in November 2017, was known to be the modified version of the existing Baekdu engine, and the total combustion time was 200 seconds. If the latest test with the combustion time longer than the previous one means that the regime has secured a high-thrust engine, this indicates that the North is capable of launching missiles equipped with heavier nuclear warheads targeting the east coast of the United States, including Washington and New York.

Pyongyang has recently ratcheted up tensions ahead of its year-end deadline by unveiling activities in Nampo, South Pyongan Province, Sanum dong, and the Punggye-ri site, turning all these regions across the country into potential bases for future provocations.

“The submersible test stand barge located at the Nampo Naval Shipyard on the west coast of North Korea is likely capable of conducting a SLBM test launch at any time,” Victor Cha, senior advisor and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studie, and Joseph Bermudez, senior fellow at the CSIS, told Beyond Parallel on Saturday (local time).

Hyo-Ju Son hjson@donga.com · In-Chan Hwang hic@donga.com